This gut-wrenching video shows Karen Klein, a school bus monitor who was being cruelly bullied to the point of tears by four middle school boys. After one of the teens posted a video on You Tube, it went viral.
Watching this video makes me want to stand up and shout, “STOP THE BUS!”
While I am glad that this grandmother of 8, who has faced much hardship in her life, has received a worldwide outpouring of support, this story shows us in a dramatic way what needs to change:
1) Parents and teachers need to teach kids how to recognize destructive behavior, resist peer pressure, speak up when they see someone acting unsafely, and get help.
2) School staff, including bus monitors and playground supervisors, need training and support to stop kids from engaging in bullying of anyone, right in the moment.
In a Fox and Friends interview, Karen Klein says that the bullying had been going on for quite a while and explains why she didn’t react when it got so vicious, “I don’t like confrontations like that, I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anybody. That wouldn’t have looked good either. You know, I probably would have been fired, actually, if I had done anything violent. So I just restrained myself, and I tried to pretend that they weren’t doing this. I’ve escaped a lot in my life and trying to let things go.”
Instead of either enduring or being violent, adults need to know how to take powerful, respectful leadership at all times that they are responsible for the care of children and to trust that they will not lose their jobs if they do.
Bullying is bullying, and allowing children to be cruel to adults is almost as unsafe as allowing them to be cruel to children.
Here are four of the many strategies described in our book, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, that you can take today:
1. Make sure everyone knows the rules. Tell all kids in your care,”You have the right to be safe and respected, and the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards others. If you see unsafe behavior, I want to know. If you make a mistake and act in an unkind way, I want to know. If anyone is treating you in an unkind way, I want to know. That way, we can figure out what to do.”
Tell all parents, “We will stop unsafe or disrespectful behavior in the moment and work with you on how to ensure that your child is safe and acts safely.”
Tell all your staff, “Your job is to take leadership in stopping unsafe or disrespectful behavior.”
2. Be prepared to step in. Know how to speak up and say loudly, firmly, and politely, ‘STOP! That’s not safe! This behavior is against the rules.” If you have a large number of kids in your care, such as on a school bus or play yard, make a plan for how you can get support and what you can do in the moment. For example, the bus driver might have permission to stop the bus until all bullying stops even if this makes kids late to school.
3. Have appropriate consequences that are consistently enforced. All or nothing consequences tend to backfire. Karen Klein didn’t want to speak up about the earlier bullying because she didn’t want to cause trouble. On a bus, instead of only having a misbehaving child being “written up,” possible consequences might be to require that offenders rehearse in a role-play using self control instead of saying or doing something aggressive, sit near the bus driver for a week, apologize, pick up trash on the school yard during recess, and/or write a paper about the importance of respectful behavior.
4. Practice safety skills of protection, intervention, and advocacy. Knowing what you should do is not enough. The way to develop skills is to practice using age-appropriate examples that are relevant to your life. Parents and school staff alike need to know how to stay aware, calm, confident, and respectful so they are ready to stop kids from rude or unsafe behavior. They need to know how to get help from overwhelmed school authorities who are often facing conflicting pressures. Kids need to know how to stay in charge of what they say and do no matter how they feel inside, how to set boundaries, leave, resist peer pressure, and get help.
The Kidpower Bullying Solutions book, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, has been used by many parents and schools to develop their own bullying prevention policies and training for staff and students.
Kidpower is short for Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a non-profit leader in “People Safety” education and training for people of all ages. Visit Kidpower.org for free Library resources, affordable publications, in-person workshops, and consultation.